Clarifying a Clinical Ethics Service’s Value, the Visible and the Hidden

Journal of Clinical Ethics 30 (3):251-261 (2019)
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Abstract

Our aim in this article is to define the difficulties that clinical ethics services encounter when they are asked to demonstrate the value a clinical ethics service (CES) could and should have for an institution and those it serves. The topic emerged out of numerous related presentations at the Un- Conference hosted by the Cleveland Clinic in August 2018 that identified challenges of articulating the value of clinical ethics work for hospital administrators. After a review these talks, it was apparent that the field of clinical ethics may be at a crisis of sorts due to increased pressure to provide explicit measures to healthcare institutions to concretely demonstrate that CESs make a valuable difference in healthcare delivery. In this article, we grapple with how to satisfy the need for demonstrable value in a field in which metrics alone may not capture the scope of clinical ethics practice. We suggest that capturing the value of a CES has been difficult because the benefits of ethics consultation may be overt or attributable to the CES, but are often hidden due to the systems-level and process-oriented nature of clinical ethics work. Part of the difficulty in demonstrating the value of CESs is capturing and conveying all of the ways the integration of a CES throughout an institution positively affects patients, families, visitors, healthcare professionals, administrators, and the institution itself. Our aim is to (1) elucidate the multifaceted value added by a CES, including value that tends to be hidden and (2) suggest how to demonstrate value to others in a way that is not simplistic or reductionistic.

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